Behind the scenes at the library!

Blog post by Kelly Saunders, Library Assistant, Central Library.

“I’m going to try and explain what happens behind the scenes at the library.  I will probably be very biased towards activities that happen at Central Library, as that’s where I‘m based so apologies if you’re a customer of our other branches.

I thought I’d start with the holes in the wall which are the returns machines.  Those of you who use other libraries in Swindon will have noticed that Central is the only place where the issuing and returning of books happens on two separate machines.  This is because we have a greater quantity of books being returned here and therefore need more space to deal with them.  This is where the “Green Room” comes in.  This is where the books come out when they go through the holes and onto the conveyer belt.  At the end of the conveyer belt is a set of rollers, where the books can be dumped either into a shared middle bin or into a separate bin.  (See photo below.)

returns machine
The items which go into the separate bins should belong to Central and therefore just need a quick check to confirm this and assess the condition, look for stray bookmarks*, etc.  Assuming that there are no pages falling out, sticky marks on the books, etc., the book goes straight onto one of the shelving trolleys (there is one for each floor) in an orderly fashion.  Anything that needs any work doing to it (said sticky marks, etc.) will have a slip of paper put in it with a note to explain what’s wrong.  The item will be put onto the library repairs card and will go to the repairs cupboard on the staff floor to be dealt with later.

The middle bin is where all non-standard items go.  This includes things which belong to other libraries or that have a reservation on them as well as any items that could have bits missing (i.e. DVDs, CDs and audiobooks) and therefore need checking more thoroughly.  This also includes the items that give you a receipt saying “Unknown Item” (which usually means it’s missing the magic tag which tells the self-service machines what item it is that needs loaning or returning and sets off the alarms to prevent theft) and the occasions where several items go through the hole at once, rather than one at a time.  Everything which ends up in the middle bin is manually returned on the PC by a member of staff.  If it belongs to Central it will go on the relevant shelving trolley, but if it belongs to one of the other libraries it will go into one of the 16 crates labelled up for these libraries (see photo below).
delivery crates
Our delivery driver picks up these crates twice a day when we also receive a delivery of crates from other libraries.  If any bits are missing e.g. someone has returned a DVD case but left the disc in their DVD player, we give them a call to ask them to return the disc asap and then put the empty box onto the “X-crate” card.  This is where items go that have stray parts which need matching up.  We also block the customer’s library card so that they need to see a member of staff before they can loan further items in case they need a reminder or we don’t have the correct contact details.
At the other libraries in Swindon the process is very similar, but it all happens on a smaller scale: the self-service machine will tell you which trolley to put the item on or which hole to post it through, in order that the staff can differentiate between the stock which belongs to that library and any non-standard items as have been described above.

The happenings of the Green Room are a very small part of what happens here at Central – the next stop for this blog will be the reservations process and how that works.

*At this juncture I have to mention an anecdote that has become legend: A book was returned to the library with its bookmark still in place.  This is quite common.  What was less common was the item being used as a bookmark; no train tickets or date receipts for this customer – only a rasher of raw bacon was apparently on hand to mark the place in the book.  Lovely….”